RELEASE FOR PUBLIC MEDIA - 18 March 2009


Australia promises to end racial discrimination

FAIRA welcomes the news at the international level that the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have adjudged the Northern Territory intervention laws to be a breach of international law. [See Annex below]

The Committee has called upon the Government of Australia to report in four months time on the progress it has made to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act and build a new relationship with Aboriginal Australia.

Apparently the Government has promised to the Committee that the Racial Discrimination Act will be reinstated in Australia in September 2009, thus ensuring that there is no legal discrimination against the Aboriginal people.

The Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA) calls upon the Government of Australia to comply with its obligations under international law to protect the human rights of Aboriginal people in Australia.

In particular FAIRA requests all members of the federal parliament to uphold modern Australian values of equality for all and freedom from racial discrimination.

The Opposition in the Australian Parliament must desist from vilification of human rights and act to support rights of Aboriginal people in Australia to maintain our indigenous identity, cultural integrity and inherent status as the First Australians.

In 1967 the Australian population by national Referendum changed the Australian Constitution to officially recognise Aboriginal people as human beings and as equals to all other people.

At that same time the Government of Australia signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination creating a commitment to outlaw racism and to guarantee every person a right to appeal in the courts of Australia against acts of racial discrimination.

In 2007 the Government of Australia reneged on that commitment and, acting without regard for the will of the people, passed discriminatory laws which introduced devious curtailment of the basic rights and freedoms of Aboriginal people.

The Aboriginal people are, in terms of civil and political rights, the most vulnerable population in Australia.

Aboriginal people living in isolation in remote areas, including central and northern Australia have no knowledge of the oppressive laws applied over their lives.

The racist laws affecting Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory are a complete mystery to the people most affected, and an anathema to democratic principles.

"There are two principles that any definition of democracy includes. The first principle is that all members of the society (citizens) have equal access to power and the second that all members (citizens) enjoy universally recognized freedoms and liberties." [Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/ Democracy]

The laws are concocted by distant, alien, ignorant and misguided officials who are ultimately unaccountable for and unaffected by the long-term fallout on the lives of thousands and thousands of people over successive generations.

The laws are the result of punitive and myopic policies, whimsically designed and blindly enforced by a colonial and welfarist State, and are bazaar by any objective standards.

To the disgrace of the Australian Parliament and the humiliation of the reputation of the Australian people, the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act two years ago and the introduction of morally repugnant laws into Australia's legal system segregates the First Peoples of Australia and formally reinstates in Australia the historical codes of racial superiority.

Efforts to have the laws repealed and to bring about democratic approach to overcoming the debilitating effects of poverty and neglect have fallen upon deaf ears in the Parliament.

Left with no other option the Aboriginal people of Australia one month ago made an appeal under international law to the International Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have adjudged the Northern Territory intervention laws to be a farcical exercise of responsibility.

In a disguised but unmistakeable attack upon racist government in Australia the Committee has requested the Government of Australia report back by July 2009 on the measures the government has taken to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Committee has also called upon the Government to consult with the Aboriginal people and to 'build a new relationship' with Aboriginal Australia.

FAIRA welcomes the findings by the Committee for the Elimination for Racial Discrimination (CERD).

However FAIRA is deeply disappointed that the Government of Australia has left it too late, until a complaint has been made to the international community, before deciding to change the laws and reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act.

This could have happened a year ago without international intervention.

There is no excuse for the Government which has continued to subject the Aboriginal community to an official position of racial discrimination this last year.

Acts of racial discrimination have a highly debilitating effect upon the victims and, given that the victims are already deeply affected by destitution and poverty, the humiliation and threats against their lives and dignity could almost be described as torture or genocide.

FAIRA warns all federal politicians that any attempts to continue racial discrimination, to oppose the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act, will be met with global campaigns against the Government of Australia and the people of Australia over the treatment of Aboriginal people.

ENDS

[Note: Les Malezer is currently in New York attending the current session of the Human Rights Committee. This Committee will examine on 23 & 24 March Australia's record under the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a human rights treaty signed by Australia in 1972 and ratified in 1980]

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[Annex - letter to the Government of Australia from the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination]

Her Excellency Mrs. Caroline Millar
Ambassador
Permanent Representative
Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations at Geneva
Chemin des Fins 2
1218 Grand-Saconnex
Fax: 41 22 799 91 75

13 March 2009

Excellency,

The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination appreciated the open and constructive discussion which took place on Wednesday 25 February 2009 between representatives of the Australian Mission and the Working Group on Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedure on the issues raised before the Committee in relation to the Northern Territory Emergency Response. The Committee also acknowledges the written information received from the Australian Mission in this respect.

The Committee's attention has been drawn to reports according to which measures being implemented to achieve the objectives contained in the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) have allegedly led to serious discrimination against Aboriginal persons in certain communities of the Northern Territory. The Committee notes with concern that the Racial Discrimination Act was suspended as a necessity to enact the measures contained in the NTER.

However, the Committee, taking into account information received from the State party, observes that the current government, in consultation with indigenous communities affected by the NTER, is in the process of redesigning key NTER measures in order to guarantee their consistency with the Racial Discrimination Act. In this regard, the Committee recalls article 2.2 of the Convention according to which, "States parties shall, when the circumstances so warrant, take [...] special and concrete measures to ensure the adequate development and protect of certain racial groups or individuals belonging to them, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. These measures shall in no case entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate rights for different racial groups after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved."

In the light of the above, and in order to continue a constructive dialogue with your Government, the Committee requests the State party to submit further details and information on the following issues no later than 31 July 2009:

• Progress on the drafting of the redesigned measures, in direct consultation with the communities and individuals affected by the NTER, bearing in mind their proposed introduction to the Parliament in September 2009.

• Progress on the lifting of the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Committee welcomes the government's commitment to building a new relationship with Indigenous Australians based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and responsibility.

Allow me, Excellency, to reiterate the Committee's wish to pursue a constructive dialogue with your Government, and to underline that the Committee's request for information is made with a view to assisting your Government in the effective implementation of the Convention.

Yours sincerely,

[signed]

Fatimata-Binta Victoire Dah
Chairperson of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination


Reproduced with the kind permission of Les Malezer.